A good friend and colleague, David Kasch, presented a paper at the ASHE conference back in 2011 where he attempted to analyze/categorize developmental theories by their narrative patterns. Some theories represent linear patterns, whereas others are continua, and still others follow intersectional or vector patterns. The above graphic is a modification of David’s original concept, but should give you an idea as to what these patterns look like. If you’re familiar with student development theory, it’s highly likely you can quickly grasp which theories fall into which categories.
My research into “digitized” college student development (development occurring in and spanning across physical and virtual spaces; think: social media) has me thinking about what digitized development may look like when represented visually. Visual representations are excellent ways of helping us understand theories including the phenomena and interactions they attempt to explain. Visual representations are excellent heuristics that make complex concepts easier to grasp. The problem, however, is how do we visually represent theories without reducing the theories to the representations? In other words, how do we have the benefits of an easy to understand model without losing the complexity of that model in the process?
Presenting theory as a two-dimensional phenomenon has always been problematic–it oversimplifies the process and gives rise to an erroneous assumption that development is a neat and tidy linear affair. Digitized development has the added problem of occurring in virtual dimensions where… quite literally… there are no dimensions. There are a multiplicity of possibilities and interactions that don’t always follow the same rules as the offline world. People can “be” in two places at once. Asynchronous conversations can span days with large breaks in-between. Networks of varying density include people and information with varying types of connections. Etc. Etc.
Digitized development also spans digital and physical worlds, which are increasingly blurring together. Words are redefined. Narratives are increasingly complex. Relativism is increasingly important. These properties mean that simplified visual patterns are increasingly untenable–if they were ever tenable to begin with. So where does this leave us? It leaves me pondering…